Walter Tull: A striking example of heroism

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The story of one of the county’s most famous sons and a decorated war hero will be showcased in a new book out today.

Ahead of its release today, the Telegraph has taken a look at the book telling the story of First World War hero Walter Tull, looking at his eventful life in the early 20th cenutry.

Born in Folkstone, in 1888, he made his early career in football, becoming the first black British outfield player in 1909 when he signed for Tottenham Hotspur.

After plying his trade at the top level as a second striker, he joined Northampton Town Football Club two years later, and it was during his stint with the Cobblers that he was commissioned to the Army to fight in the war in a battalion made of football players.

During that period in the county, he lived in Rushden.

While in the Army, he became the first British-born black officer to lead troops into battle, while his heroic efforts saw him recommended for a Military Cross in 1918.

That year he was killed in action, in Northern France during a German offensive, aged 29, but his legacy lives on so much so that in 2009 Brian Binley, MP for Northampton South, led a campaign to have Mr Tull awarded the cross posthumously.

The officer’s story is told in a fictionalised scrapbook by Michaela Morgan, using actual photographs, documents and records.

A spokesman for publishers Frances Lincoln said: “When he joined the Footballers’ Battalion during the First World War, his leadership and courage won him a comission and recommendation for the Military Cross.

“But Walter wasn’t just a great footballer and British officer.

“He happened to be black, at a time when the rulebook stated that only white men could become officers.

“The story of Walter remains unnervingly relevant.

“In the media, in the terraces and on the pitch, racism and prejudice still mar the face of the beautiful game, week after week, year after year.

“Walter Tull was a man who spectacularly defied such prejudices to achieve greatness on and off the pitch, and an inspiration to us all, football fans or not.”

Between 1911 and 1914, Walter Tull turned out more than 100 times for Northampton Town, scoring nine goals.

After becoming a firm fans favourite at the club Glasgow Rangers came in for the player but, when war broke out in 1914, Walter decided to act on a poster he saw advertising for places in a battalion made up of footballers.

He was sent off to France in December that year and was given the role of private, serving in the 17th Middlesex regiment.

After a year in harsh conditions on the front line, Walter actually took part in a football match with German troops in No Man’s Land during Christmas.

By 1916, his valiant efforts during the war had seen him promoted three times and was a lance sergeant at the age of 26.

That same year, he took part in the Battle of the Somme – ending up as one of 79 survivors out of 400 men.

But, after moving up the ranks, tragedy struck in March 1918. He was in France when he was shot while crossing No Man’s Land in the second battle of the Somme.

He died on March 25, 1918, at the age of 29.

His colleagues tried to recover his body several times, but were forced back by enemy fire and he was never recovered.

Pictures in the book show his early football career as well as the trauma he faced on the front line during the war.

A memorial to him can be found in Northampton.

Clarke Carlisle, chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association and former Cobblers player, said: “This is an outstanding piece of work in which Michaela has succeded on two levels.

“She has encapsulated the life and work of an often forgotten man, showing his achievements in an inspirational way.

“Secondly, she has done all this on a platform that will grab the attention of our younger generations, and hopefully compel them to achieve greatness in their lives too.”